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Devilishly Funny

Forum > Reviews

The Devil Made me Do It

Jason Greig at Christchurch Art Gallery
11 Feb 2006 - 8 May 2006

by John Hurrell
Article of the Month April 2006

Jason Greig's work is often misunderstood as being not truly contemporary –in the sense that his references to say, the nineteenth century Symbolists he clearly loves, are over-emphasised. While his work is peppered with winks to Redon, Moreau, Fuseli and others, it is also rich in punning jokes about Hollywood film actors, twentieth century art and rock music. Greig may celebrate a Gothic sensibility, but he most definitely is a man of our times; one whose work is really about tongue-in–cheek humour rather than say, horror. Humour that is black but never sick.

His images do not disturb like that genre of films that feature for example, Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees, for although promoted by the city gallery as 'sinister', Greig's monoprints do not terrify or genuinely chill – though they might have a hundred and fifty years ago. Rather they generate a series of gentle smirks or muffled guffaws, being aimed at educated adults long used to the trite conventions of 'fearful' images. His pleasurable cliches are not directed at jittery children.

The Devil Made Me Do It, in the William A. Sutton Room on the ground floor of the Christchurch Art Gallery and curated by Peter Vangioni, pumps up the theatricality of his images, using dark ambience and 'spot' lighting, blood red walls and tombstone labels - but such corny presentation is not needed. It impedes and misdirects the sensibility of the show. Greig's images are actually subtle, not heavy-handed. His use of coded conventions is controlled, and while it teases out the possibilities of fear as an effect, it is not sadistic or tormenting.

His 34 monoprints and 3 charcoal studies are worth prolonged attention and repeated visits, not only because of the adjacent Jeffrey Harris show across the corridor, or the amazing Mike Parr etchings upstairs -which one can compare them and their references with - but because Greig is a master of ambiguity. He knows how to effortlessly squeeze a range of interpretations out of what initially seem to be straightforward imagery. A woman treading water in the sea is also a beckoning siren reclining in a bed. Three aged surviving Beatles are also 'undead' in a sense far beyond musical popularity. These onetime creative individuals are now unrelenting, zombie-like destroyers of other musical possibilities.

A major figure like this needs a serious publication that presents all his images together so they can be contemplated at leisure and cross –connections made more apparent. He needs a thick book, not a brief cardboard fold-out like the one published here. It is wonderful that the Christchurch Art Gallery is presenting this thirteen year survey, but all of Greig's printmaking methods deserve attention, his lithographs and etchings too. The show should have been double its size, with a more thoughtful discussion published that included a deeper analysis of those personalities from popular culture that Greig seems to identify with, like Lon Chaney, or Marilyn Manson. It could have made an important contribution to a more thorough discussion about this intriguing but complicated artist, elaborating deeper on the role of his oft-ignored, chosen medium in contemporary New Zealand art.

latter-day-saint-web Vulcan-Paradise-web Viking-U-Boat-web

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137 articles & 705 comments since 12 Feb 2005
New images

Courtesy of CAG, cheers. Click for full size. That acid green, my god.
John Hurrell
122 articles & 1507 comments since 2 Dec 2005
Many thanks to CAG and AB for their help with these images.

They're terrific.

Drawing out my point about Greig's references to 20th century art and rock music as well as 19 century art, 'Seven Years of Labour...' seems connected to the Grateful Dead's 'Blues for Allah' album, 'The Latter Day Saint' quotes Bazelitz, 'Vulcan Paradise' is very Blakean, and 'Viking U Boat' refers to modern history [as well as medieval] as rendered perhaps by Redon. Quite a synthesis!
19 articles & 495 comments since 9 Aug 2005
All Hail Ozzy Osbourne...

Vulcan Paradise seems more John Martin than William Blake to me.
John Hurrell
122 articles & 1507 comments since 2 Dec 2005
A pinch

of Palmer, perhaps?
19 articles & 495 comments since 9 Aug 2005
More than a pinch

Look at that raking hellish glare and recall Palmer's illustrations for Paradise Lost.
12 comments since 31 Oct 2005
i dont think so

Baselitz and the Dead - no way

Blake and Redon - yes

Ozzy and Halford - i think so
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